40 A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” 45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
The final account in Mark’s first chapter adds a twist to Jesus’ encounters. Up to this point, all who came to Jesus were free to do so. The only operative constraints seem to have been keeping the Sabbath. The people of Capernaum seemed to wait until sundown marking the end of Sabbath before they approached the door of Simon’s house. But in this encounter, there are a whole range of religious rules, norms and health concerns that would keep the leper from openly approaching Jesus.
If Jesus’ prior “boundary crossing” might have raised concerns of the religious authorities, e.g., in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus touches a woman not his relative and touches a sick woman. In this encounter he will touch a leper. After the cure, Jesus instructs the man: “See that you tell no one anything…” Instead, the cured man tells everyone! As a result, Jesus’ mission is thwarted as soon as it begins: “It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (v. 45).
The leper, who had either seen Jesus’ works or had heard about them, came pleading asking Jesus to remove from him the ravages and stigma of his designation as leper. The request is slightly other than straight forward. Rather than the simple “Make me clean,” we hear “If you wish you can make me clean.” It raises the question, given the man seems to know about Jesus as a miracle worker, why would Jesus not “wish” to make the man clean?
Commentaries offer a variety of options and opinions. It is perhaps a simple plea from someone who has experienced life without power and hope and knows too well that his every request is subject to the other’s whim/wish/decision. It may simply be the language of one experienced in begging. What is not evident is how the leper perceives Jesus: itinerant miracle-worker or one through whom the power of God was directed.
When we ask something of God, how do we ask?